The Most Game-Accurate Part Of The Dungeons & Dragons Movie Is That It's A Comedy

If you were raised on a healthy dose of "Lord of the Rings" and "Game of Thrones," you may wonder when exactly the fantasy genre sold out for comedy. Of course, those adaptations have the occasional gag, but when compared to the comedic stylings of "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," they are very somber affairs altogether. So what happened to the serious side of wizards and warriors? Why couldn't we get a "Dungeons & Dragons" movie that took this stuff seriously?

But look closer at both the gameplay and the culture, and you'll see that "Dungeons & Dragons" has always been rooted in comedy. Every time we sit down to play, we filter our own consumption of popular culture through character decisions. So let's talk about why humor is an integral part of "Dungeons & Dragons" and why "Honor Among Thieves" does a great job of translating that to the screen.

Humor defines the modern hero

Strip away the mechanics — the dice and the spell slots — and "Dungeons & Dragons" is a game where people sit around a table and try to have a good time. Sure, there are serious or emotionally fraught moments in any campaign, but most friendships aren't based on a mutual desire to spend three hours practicing the Strasberg Method. Instead, it's a format that encourages running jokes and chemistry between friends. It's a group of people trying to make each other laugh.

But there is also an element of metatextuality to every game of "Dungeons & Dragons." When I sit down to construct my latest hero, I tend to create a composite of characters from film and television that have inspired me. For example, in my last campaign, my cleric was modeled on Wyatt Russell's Dud in "Lodge 49." The idea was to play someone both earnest and a little naive who is latching onto something bigger than himself to help make sense of what he sees in the world around him. And when we look to other media for inspiration, finding characters who inspire us and allow us to have a good time with friends will naturally lead to us looking more at Robert Downey Jr. than Daniel Day-Lewis.

Some people have suggested that the film riffs a little too hard on the Marvel formula, and it is easy to point out parallels between the two approaches to worldbuilding and character development. But I might argue that the influence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on "Honor Among Thieves" works at a diegetic level, too. Chris Pine may be a character actor trapped in a leading man's body, but his work in the "Star Trek" franchise serves as a kind of modern leading man shorthand that fits perfectly within the current Hollywood moment. It turns out Chris Pine is the perfect actor to play a "Chris Pine type."

Failure is funny – and our dice hate us

There's another reason humor and "Dungeons & Dragons" work so well: our dice are agents of chaos. At least once per session, your character will accomplish something extraordinary — or fail at something spectacularly — just because the D20 broke the right way. And that means a thread of absurdity is baked into every game of "Dungeons & Dragons." So if your master thief stumbles out of the shadows on a bad stealth roll or your warrior loses an opposed strength check against a much weaker foe, your only choices are to get frustrated or embrace the silliness.

(This last example is not hyperbole. In a recent session, my Dungeon Master introduced a player's new barbarian warrior by having him arm wrestle the other members of the party. Through pure, stupid luck, my frail cleric managed to pin his arm to the table with almost no effort. Not exactly the cool entrance either of them had in mind.)

"Honor Among Thieves" captures this best in the movie's heist scene. From the innovative use of the hither-thither staff to the coordinated distractions, it's a plan that was executed to perfection — but because the painting happened to fall facedown, all that hard work was for nothing, and the group has to move onto Plan C ("Plan B has a stink on it"). Or there's the illusion of Edgin cast by Simon that quickly devolves into a nightmare image of Chris Pine's melting face. In the world of "Dungeons & Dragons," failure is funny, and you will definitely fail a lot.

Comedy is what made D&D popular

And then there's the impact podcasts and live shows have had on the game. "Honor Among Thieves" was made possible by a rising interest in RPGs, and that interest has been at least partially driven by the popularity of live recordings of people playing "Dungeons & Dragons." Those shows have become showcases for comedians— people often trained in improvisation — and their approach to gameplay and character creation has impacted how people think about the game.

"Adventure Zone" follows the comedic traditions of the McElroy brothers' popular podcast and video work. "Not Another D&D Podcast" and the various seasons of Dimension 20 pull primarily from past and current CollegeHumor writers. "HarmonQuest" is one of many animated projects from Dan Harmon. "Acquisitions Incorporated" is the brainchild of the writing team behind the popular webcomic Penny Arcade. Each of these shows explores the endless possibilities available in the game, but each of them ultimately leans into making the audience laugh. 

That means a new generation of "Dungeons & Dragons" fans have had their interest in tabletop games framed through the lens of comedy. If any of the above shows was your introduction to the game, it may never have occurred to you that your campaigns could take any other shape. And sure, there are moments in any session that skew closer to the nihilism of "Game of Thrones." But the things we make are often in the shape of what we love, and if people fall in love with a game thanks to Griffin McElroy or Emily Axford, sight gags will fit nicely into your adaptation.

Make 'em laugh

While high fantasy and silly humor may seem a little like odd bedfellows, the truth is that there are many good reasons to adapt "Dungeons & Dragons" as a live-action comedy. Comedy has always been part of the tabletop experience; it has also allowed the game to rise to its current heights. And even if "Dungeons & Dragons" were a much more dour property, when you can snag talents like John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein to make your movie, not leaning into the jokes a little more would be a pretty poor idea.